Review of Shahnameh, retold by Elizabeth Laird


The Persian Book of Kings

retold by Elizabeth Laird
illustrated by Shirin Adl

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2012. 135 pages.

I loved fairy tales when I was a child. This book contains stories in the fairy tale style that I’ve never heard before.

This is from the Introduction:

Iran (often known as Persia in the west) is a land of stories. There are so many that they could fill hundreds of books and take years to tell. Some of the best of them are found in the Shahnameh, or “Book of Kings,” a very long poem which was written a thousand years ago by a great Persian poet called Ferdowsi.

People in Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and all over the mountainous lands of Central Asia know the stories of the Shahnameh. They have told and retold them through the centuries, from one generation to the next. Professional storytellers recite Ferdowsi’s verses in tea houses by the roadside. Farmers relate them to each other as they rest in the shade of their fruit trees during the hot months of summer, and mothers and fathers tell them to their children as they huddle indoors round the fire in the cold of winter.

Iranians love to hear about what happened at the beginning of time, how the first kings ruled in glory, how the great age of heroes dawned, how champions like Sam, Zal and Rustam rode out on their fiery horses to fight wicked demons, and how brave women, like Rudabeh and Gordafarid, conquered the heroes’ hearts.

And that’s what you’ll find in this volume, tales of kings and heroes, battles, tricks, and love stories.

I’m not crazy about the art, but the simple flat style suits the subject matter, having a look of primitive art from ancient times, as well as plenty of floral decorations.

This book tells American children about folktales they may not have heard before.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Whiskers, Tails, and Wings, by Judy Goldman

Whiskers, Tails & Wings

Animal Folktales from Mexico

by Judy Goldman
illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck

Charlesbridge, 2013. 58 pages.

This is a nice collection of folktales most children won’t have heard before. Each one comes from a specific region and a specific indigenous people group of Mexico.

After each tale, the people group who tells that tale is described, along with some facts about the region and the featured animals. Spanish and native words are woven seamlessly into the tales, but in case you didn’t catch every detail, there’s a glossary after each story.

As most animal folktales, the ones chosen have an element of playfulness and delight. As the author asks in the Conclusion:

Where else in the world will you find a clever cricket who defeats a puma, a patient turtle who helps create the world, a brave opossum who gives mankind a wonderful gift, a flea who saves humanity, and a frog who, just in time, keeps his heart in his chest?

Only in Mexico!

Yet every culture in the world has tales that are important to its people. Like the stories in this book, all fairy tales and folktales allow people to pass along traditions and knowledge not only among their own community, but also to the world. Through stories we come to understand ourselves as well as the world around us. Perhaps the tales in Whiskers, Tails & Wings will encourage you to share your own stories, discover new tales, and maybe even create your own!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Grandma and the Great Gourd, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters

Grandma and the Great Gourd

A Bengali Folktale

retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2013. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a wonderful folktale, marvelously told. The pictures are exquisite, giving the flavor of India. The story is sprinkled with sound effects that aren’t ones native English speakers would naturally use. There’s the repetition of a folktale, and a lovely predictability — with a twist.

This is a book for school age kids, with the text on the long side for preschoolers. With that in mind, the telling is sure to engage their interest.

Here’s how it begins:

Once upon a time, in a little village in India, there lived an old woman whom everyone called Grandma. She loved gardening and had the best vegetable patch in the village.

Grandma lived by herself in a little hut at the edge of the village, next to a deep, dark jungle. At times she could hear herds of elephants lumbering on forest paths, thup-thup-thup, or giant lizards slithering over dry leaves, khash-khash.

She didn’t mind because she had two loyal dogs, Kalu and Bhulu, to protect her. They also helped her with garden chores.

When Grandma crosses the deep, dark forest to visit her daughter, she encounters three fierce animals who want to eat her up. But this is how that goes:

Grandma’s heart went dhip-dhip, but she didn’t let the fox see how scared she was.

“If you’re planning to have me for breakfast,” she said, “that’s a terrible idea. See how skinny I am? I’ll be a lot plumper on my way back from my daughter’s house because she’s such a good cook. You can eat me then, if you like.”

“That sounds good!” said the fox, and he let her go.

Of course, to get home after visiting her daughter, and indeed growing plump, Grandma must outwit the tiger, the bear, and the fox. Her plan works on the tiger and the bear, but the fox is more clever and confronts her. However, there’s a lovely satisfying ending, for which the groundwork was laid at the very start.

This has all that’s good about a folktale, including being one you’ll want to tell again and again.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Jack and the Baked Beanstalk, by Colin Stimpson

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk

by Colin Stimpson

Templar Books (Candlewick Press), 2012. 36 pages.

Here’s a cinematic retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk set in what looks like 1930s America. Jack and his mom run a diner, but when a huge overpass is built, all their business goes away, and they’re down to their last few pennies. Jack’s mother sends him to buy some coffee beans, but then Jack meets a guy who looks like a bum under a city bridge who offers to sell him a can of magic baked beans.

Now Jack had read enough fairy tales to know that you don’t turn down an offer like that. Also, baked beans were his favorite food in the whole world, so he couldn’t resist tasting some magic ones. Thanking the man, Jack exchanged his last pennies for the beans and ran home.

You know how the story goes. This vine, instead of growing regular beans, grows cans of baked beans as it stretches high into the sky.

But this story has all the unkind and unethical bits taken out.

“We have visitors,” boomed the giant.

“So I see,” squawked the chicken.

“And we know just what to do with visitors, don’t we?” said the giant. “Now you STAY THERE. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” And with that the giant grabbed a handful of the chicken’s eggs and marched off to his kitchen. Soon the sound of clattering pots and pans was making the table tremble.

“Is he going to eat us, Chicken?” squeaked Jack.

“Don’t be silly!” cackled the chicken. “He just wants to make you some lunch. He hasn’t cooked for someone new in a long, long time.”

You see, it’s all good-hearted and ever so friendly. No nasty running off with the harp or stealing the goose that lays the golden eggs. (And instead of a harp, it’s a magic radio. Instead of eggs of gold, the chicken lays eggs that taste good.)

I wasn’t surprised to read at the back that Colin Stimpson has been an art director and production designer for Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney Feature Animation, because these paintings look like stills from an excellent animated feature film. He uses light to highlight the action. He has incredibly detailed three-dimensional-looking backgrounds. This would work well as a cartoon short.

But mostly, it’s just plain fun. The nice giant helps good-hearted Jack and his mother (and his ever-present dog) feed plain working folk. And everybody ends up happy. Did I mention the book is beautiful to look at? This book will leave you smiling.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Writing Reviews, Posting Reviews

I have a problem. It’s a good problem. I am way behind on reviews I have written but haven’t posted. Right now there are 97 of them.

Partly, this problem came from the solution to an earlier problem: I was way behind on books I’d read but hadn’t reviewed. I decided to solve that problem by spending 30 minutes per day writing reviews. Some time ago, I’d tried and succeeded — for an entire year — to write 30 minutes a day on my book. For now, I’m putting my book-writing on hold. I went to the William Morris Seminar in January to learn about ALSC’s Book Evaluation Committees. It’s seen as conflict of interest to have a book being published when you are evaluating books for a committee (like the Newbery), so I decided I haven’t gotten published in all this time, why not wait a little longer and see if I can get on a committee first? Surely I can write in the meantime — just not try to find a publisher. Well, I decided that, and then got more and more lazy about my 30 minutes per day goal. When I saw how behind I was on books to be reviewed, I decided to let myself spend that time on review writing. And I’ve caught up!

Or, I’ve sort of caught up. There’s a problem. If I write one review per day but don’t post one review per day, I will never catch up. The fact is, I need to be much, much more choosy about which books I review. Right now I’ve got four books sitting here that I liked very much and want to recommend, but I think I will discipline myself and not review them.

Or, how about this: I’ll give a mini-review here and now, but won’t make a full-on page with links on my main site.

Here are four excellent books. First two picture books.

Rabbit’s Snow Dance, as told by James and Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jeff Newman, tells a folk tale about how rabbit got his short tail. The book would make a wonderful read-aloud, with chants like “I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!” and a longer chant in a circle that begs for the listeners to act out. Rabbit has a nice comeuppance at the end, or, well, comedownance, and that’s how he loses his long tail. Joseph and James Bruchac are storytellers, and this story definitely wants to be told.

Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, is one I got fresh appreciation for when I heard people talk about it at Capitol Choices. This is a deceptively simple bedtime story. A little girl is not sleepy at bedtime, and her parents tell her she doesn’t have to go to sleep, but she does have to put on her pajamas… and so on. Along the way, they talk about how different animals sleep. The pictures show the animals, like a tiger, in their habitat, while in alternate spreads the little girl settles into her bed with her stuffed animals and toys. In the end, she settles down like the animals do. This is a cozy and lovely bedtime book.

Then, two books of children’s nonfiction, both about birds:

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird, by Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So, is another picture book, but tells a true story. It includes short chapters, but there is no table of contents and this is definitely suitable for younger kids. The story is about an African Grey Parrot and his owner, Irene Pepperberg. She used Alex to show that parrots possess true intelligence. The book talks about Alex’s progress and how he was tested and matched three-year-old children.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, by Phillip Hoose, is much longer. It covers science, nature, the environment and what you can do to help. Moonbird tells the story of a rufa red knot banded with the number B95 in the year 1995 who has been spotted since. These birds are some of the greatest distance travelers on earth, and B95 is the oldest known such bird. The book goes into detail about what physiological changes and athletic feats go into his journey. The author interviewed many scientists all interested in helping the red knots and other shorebirds continue to survive.

So there you have it — Four more excellent books. Some day, I will catch up…. Meanwhile, keep reading!

Review of Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Women Who Run With the Wolves

Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD

Ballantine Books, New York, 1997. First published in 1992. 582 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs: #2 Other Nonfiction

This wonderful book is full of riches. I read it very slowly, and will definitely want to read it many more times to better grasp the wisdom it contains.

For some time, I’ve loved books by Allan B. Chinen, such as Once Upon a Midlife, that take fairy tales from around the world and reveal the psychology behind them and what it means about the passages in a person’s life. Women Who Run With the Wolves is similar, taking fairy tales and stories from all over the world that shine light on women’s lives. Only Clarissa Pinkola Estes is much more poetical and symbolic in applying the fairy tales, so that her own skills as a storyteller shine out even in the explanations.

Here are some thoughts the author shares in the Introduction:

“Healthy wolves and healthy women share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Wolves and women are reolational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mates, and their pack. They are experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances; they are fiercely stalwart and very brave.

“Yet both have been hounded, harassed, and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors. They have been the targets of those who would clean up the wilds as well as the wildish environs of the psyche, extincting the instinctual, and leaving no trace of it behind. The predation of wolves and women by those who misunderstand them is strikingly similar….

“Like a trail through a forest which becomes more and more faint and finally seems to diminish to a nothing, traditional psychological theory too soon runs out for the creative, the gifted, the deep woman. Traditional psychology is often spare or entirely silent about deeper issues important to women: the archetypal, the intuitive, the sexual and cyclical, the ages of women, a woman’s way, a woman’s knowing, her creative fire. This is what has driven my work on the Wild Woman archetype for over two decades.

“A woman’s issues of soul cannot be treated by carving her into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture, nor can she be bent into a more intellectually acceptable shape by those who claim to be the sole bearers of consciousness. No, that is what has already caused millions of women who began as strong and natural powers to become outsiders in their own cultures. Instead, the goal must be the retrieval and succor of women’s beauteous and natural psychic forms.

“Fairy tales, myths, and stories provide understandings which sharpen our sight so that we can pick out and pick up the path left by the wildish nature. The instruction found in story reassures us that the path has not run out, but still leads women deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing. The tracks we all are following are those of the wild and innate instinctual Self….

“Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything — we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories. Stories engender the excitement, sadness, questions, longings, and understandings that spontaneously bring the archetype, in this case Wild Woman, back to the surface.

“Stories are embedded with instructions which guide us about the complexities of life. Stories enable us to understand the need for and the ways to raise a submerged archetype. The stories on the following pages are the ones, out of hundreds that I’ve worked with and pored over for decades, and that I believe most clearly express the bounty of the Wild Woman archetype….

“This is a book of women’s stories, held out as markers along the path. They are for you to read and contemplate in order to assist you toward your own natural-won freedom, your caring for self, animals, earth, children, sisters, lovers, and men. I’ll tell you right now, the doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.

“The material in this book was chosen to embolden you. The work is offered as a fortification for those on their way, including those who toil in difficult inner landscapes, as well as those who toil in and for the world. We must strive to allow our souls to grow in their natural ways and to their natural depths.”

This book was a perfect choice for me as I was going through divorce and trying to figure out who I am as a single woman, looking at my life and wanting to create something beautiful. This book was exactly the sort of encouragement and wisdom I needed.

As she says, these stories are to read and contemplate. I highly recommend them, and I am sure I am going to come back to this book many times.

I’ll close with some bits of wisdom from its pages:

“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success. Listen, learn, go on. That is what we are doing with this tale. We are listening to its ancient message. We are learning about deteriorative patterns so we can go on with the strength of one who can sense the traps and cages and baits before we are upon them or caught in them.”

“A woman must be careful not to allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

“There is a time in our lives, usually in mid-life, when a woman has to make a decision — possibly the most important decision of her future life — and that is, whether to be bitter or not. Women often come to this in their late thirties or early forties. They are at the point where they are full up to their ears with everything and they’ve “had it” and “the last straw has broken the camel’s back” and they’re “pissed off and pooped out.” Their dreams of their twenties may be lying in a crumple. There may be broken hearts, broken marriages, broken promises.

“A body who has lived a long time accumulates debris. It cannot be avoided. But if a woman will return to the instinctual nature instead of sinking into bitterness, she will be revivified, reborn. Wolf pups are born each year. Usually they are these little mewling, sleepy-eyed, dark-furred creatures covered in dirt and straw, but they are immediately awake, playful, and loving, wanting to be close and comforted. They want to play, want to grow. The woman who returns to the instinctual and creative nature will come back to life. She will want to play. She will still want to grow, both wide and deep. But first, there has to be a cleansing.”

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Source: This review is based on my own personal copy.

Review of The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney

The Lion and the Mouse

by Jerry Pinkney

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Caldecott Medal Winner
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #6 Picture Books

This stunning picture book is my pick for the 2010 Caldecott Medal. The amazingly detailed paintings tell the story of the well-known fable without words, the only text being animal sounds as part of the pictures.

Without words, I was surprised at what a success this book was at Storytime. The big, beautiful pictures captured the children’s attention, and there was lots for them to talk about on each page. The expressions on the faces of the characters show emotion beautifully. There’s lots of variety in the format, from close-ups to wide angle shots. It would take many readings before you had noticed all the detail in the backgrounds.

I got to hear Jerry Pinkney talk about writing this book at the National Book Festival. He clearly loves animals, and that comes across in this magnificent book.

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Review of In the Ever After, by Allan B. Chinen


In the Ever After

Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life

by Allan B. Chinen

Chiron Publications, Wilmette, Illinois, 1994.  203 pages.

I love Allan Chinen’s collections of fairy tales.  This volume deals with tales from all over the world that involve “elders” rather than the youthful protagonist going off to seek his fortune.

After presenting each fairy tale, he speaks as a psychiatrist about the insights the fairy tale gives us and the light it sheds on living the second half of life.

Fairy tales are full of wisdom.  Allan Chinen helps you see how that wisdom can apply to your life.  This is perfect for people like me who love symbols and images.  It’s fascinating how the same concepts come up in fairy tales from completely different parts of the world.

“In most familiar fairy tales, the Prince and Princess battle against terrible enemies and survive overwhelming ordeals.  Then they meet each other, marry, and live happily ever after.  And surely true love and finding one’s own kingdom represent symbolic goals for all individuals.  But much more remains of life in the “ever after,” and perhaps the most important:  restoring innocence and wonder to a world that has forgotten them.  That is the ultimate promise of elder tales, and their challenge — infusing the magic of myth and childhood into real life.”

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Review of Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal


Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal:  A Worldwide Cinderella, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2007.  32 pages.

We all realize that there are versions of the story of Cinderella from all over the world.  In this delightful book, Paul Fleischman takes bits from many different versions and weaves them into one tale.  Illustrator Julie Paschkis uses folk art motifs from the different countries to decorate the story perfectly.

For example, here’s a two-page spread with bits of the tale from Russia, Iran, India, and Ireland:

But when the girl was out tending the cattle, the beasts heard her crying for hunger.  “Don’t weep,” said one of the cows.  And the animal poured honey for her from its horn . . .

. . . and a fairy gave her figs and apricots . . .

. . . and Godfather Snake gave her rice.

Once she was eating well and proper, the girl bloomed into a right rare beauty.  The stepmother couldn’t fathom it.  And meanwhile her own sour-faced daughters would curdle the milk if they looked at it twice.

This book is perfect for introducing children to the concept of different versions of familiar tales.  But it’s also simply fun to read and enjoy.  And enlightening to see how the different versions reflect the different cultures.

A beautiful book.

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